the (un)interpreted Giacinto Scelsi

a research project

by Marco Fusi and Anna D’Errico

The rediscovery of Divertimento N. 1 for violin and piano: interpretive issues and perspetives

by Marco Fusi and Anna D’Errico

Thanks to the collaboration with Fondazione Isabella Scelsi in Rome, we discovered an unknown piece for violin and piano by Giacinto Scelsi, titled Divertimento N.1, dated 1938. The piece was printed on tracing paper support. The only catalogued works by Scelsi for this setup were Chemin du Coeur, a juvenile work dated 1929, and the Sonata, dated 1934. This unperformed piece, considerable in length (consisting of five movements) and showing quite a mature stylistic conception, promised to add a  major tile to the definition of Scelsian repertoire.

After being granted by the Fondazione Scelsi the rights to premiere the piece, we have started considering the multiple problems that such a task sets before us. On one hand, a series of questions was calling for academic research: problems such as verifying the dating, inquiring about the genesis of the piece, and in general contextualizing the work within the whole of Scelsi’s production. On the other hand, there is a crucial consideration in approaching an unpublished work of Giacinto Scelsi, due to his peculiar compositional way, which excluded notation from the creative process. Performers of his music are faced with the question of a de facto approximate score: the issue of the transcriber, a middle-person between the composer and the performance material, and the legitimate question wether such material might fall short of fundamental knowledge, informing the very identity of the work. In short, a respectful rendition of the score, whilst in most contemporary repertoire is highly esteemed, in the case of Scelsi is by far unsatisfactory.

Since the Fondazione Isabella Scelsi opened its archives, offering access to the entire catalogue of Scelsi's recorded material, performance practices of the work of Giacinto Scelsi have been more and more defining their contour, supported by a growing scholarly publishing. It is nowadays possible to listen to recordings of Scelsi himself playing fragments or even entire compositions on his Ondiola, allowing performers to compare scores and original materials that generated them. The question of Scelsian performance practice is a thorny one, constellated as it is by issues such as the role of the transcribers, the personal long-term relationship between Scelsi and the first generation of his interpreters, and consequently the issue of performance practice heritage, and last but not least, as already underlined, to which degree – if at all – do fidelity to / understanding of the work and fidelity to / understanding of the written score coincide.

Hence, this unpublished work was offering us an extraordinary chance: the possibility to relation with existing performance practices of the Scelsian corpus, question them, and experiment the outcomes, on a virgin territory.